Drafting Synergies in Amonkhet

Posted in How to Play Limited on April 25, 2017

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

Discovering what makes a new Limited format tick is my favorite thing to do in Magic, and with Amonkhet rolling out, we get to do exactly that. Today I'm going to look at some of the synergies we can work toward, as figuring out all the ways the new cards work together is how you get an edge in Limited (and is a huge part of the fun). It's good to know which cards are powerful (and I can recommend some set reviews that might help with that), but beyond raw power, there is the synergy I was hinting at. When I talk about synergy, I don't just mean the corporate buzzword, I actually mean figuring out which cards and strategies mesh in such a way that you end up with more than the sum of their parts—sometimes much more. Let's take a look at what Amonkhet has to offer.

Zombie, Zombie, Zombie-ie-ie

Zombies are a well-supported tribe in Amonkhet, and there are a lot of reasons to fill your deck full of them. The basic premise of the deck is simple: play Zombies and play cards that care about Zombies. This formula has always worked well, and Amonkhet is well set up to utilize it once again.

It's also worth noting that every creature with embalm comes back as a Zombie, so there are more Zombies lurking in the set than you might think at first glance.

The rough skeleton (to continue the undead theme) of a Zombie package might look like this:

1 Lord of the Accursed
2 Binding Mummy
4 embalm creatures
4 other Zombies

That's enough to have a solid Zombie theme and leaves plenty of room for normal Limited selections (combat tricks, other creatures, removal, etc.). You will most likely want to be white-black when leaning into the Zombie tribe, but it's possible to play a Zombie deck with any combination of black or white plus another color.

Don't Overexert Yourself

Another theme is exert. Creatures with exert can keep themselves tapped down for an additional turn when they attack, and in exchange you get a sweet ability, like +1/+1 and flying or +1/+3 and lifelink. Creatures with exert all tend to be pretty good on their own, but you can certainly get more mileage out of them by combining them with the various untap effects found in the set.

Things to look for when trying to tap into (or untap) all the potential power of exert are the following:

  • Untap effects
  • Cards that grant vigilance
  • Cards that trigger off other creatures being exerted

There are enough cards that fall into these categories that you should be able to pick up a couple, at which point your exert cards get an extra boost. This isn't a deck in quite the same way some of the other synergy decks exist, as you aren't drafting a full-on "exert deck" so much as you are drafting some cards that pair well with creatures you'd be playing anyway. It's unlikely that you end up with nine exert creatures and seven ways to untap them, whereas a Zombie deck could be composed of fifteen Zombies and be a Zombie deck through and through.

Here's a bare-bones exert package, though there is room to expand past this:

4 exert creatures (at least two of which provide substantial bonuses, like Tah-Crop Elite)
1 Synchronized Strike
1 Trial of Solidarity
1 Djeru's Resolve

Even this relatively light selection will give your deck extra punch, and you'll be pleased with the results.


The -1/-1 counters theme is present in green and black, and you will feel pretty smart if you can build a deck around it. The cards that interact with this come in a couple different shapes and sizes:

  • Creatures that force you to put -1/-1 counters on your creatures
  • Cards that give opponents' creatures -1/-1 counters
  • Cards that remove counters from your creatures for profit
  • Cards that trigger when a counter is put on a creature

To build a deck around this theme, you'll want to mix and match cards that distribute counters (regardless of on which side they land) and cards that care about counters.

You can profit by using cards like Defiant Greatmaw to mitigate the counter drawback on your under-costed creatures and end up with giant creatures at low cost. Alternately, you can play cards like Nest of Scarabs and get value no matter where the counters land. This has more moving pieces than something like the Zombie theme, where the recipe is simply Zombies and cards that care about Zombies. Here, you have various ways to gain counters, ways to move them, and cards that remove them or pay you for gaining them. It's still the same basic idea (cards that care about counters), but it has a few different ways to combine them.

Here's a sample of a counters theme:

5 creatures that distribute -1/-1 counters (Baleful Ammit, Defiant Greatmaw, Exemplar of Strength, etc.)
1 Splendid Agony
1 Nest of Scarabs
1 Soulstinger
1 Decimator Beetle

This only takes up nine card slots, but will heavily impact how your deck plays out. All of these cards save Nest of Scarabs work just fine on their own, and Nest has enough enablers that it will be a good draw in almost every game (you can count on it).

The Cycle Continues

Cycling is a headliner theme, and it is no surprise that a cycling deck is one of the options. Here, you combine cards that reward you for cycling with exactly what you expect—cyclers. Like the Zombie theme, this one is pretty simple, though very rewarding when it comes together. It's also very nice that cycling naturally helps you find your combo cards, as you can cycle through your deck very quickly if you haven't found the engine pieces.

Another great feature of this deck is that cycling cards are intrinsically playable—they are never dead, so playing a lot of cards with cycling is something that could happen regardless of whether you have a Faith of the Devoted or Drake Haven. It just so happens that you get paid for doing something you want to do anyway, which is a good spot to be in.

Here's what a cycling deck may look like:

1 Faith of the Devoted
1 Ruthless Sniper
2 Horror of the Broken Lands
2 Pitiless Vizier
11 cards with cycling

This is a relatively deep roster, and once you are at six cards that care about cycling, you can certainly play off-color cyclers (cards with cycling 2 that you can't even cast). Cards that cycle for one mana are also at a premium here, as the cycling is what you care about even more than the actual effect. So many cards have cycling that you can realistically get a ton each draft, especially if you are aggressively going after cyclers without paying too much attention to the other text (which is what you want to do once you have something like two Faith of the Devoted). This is the deck I most look forward to playing and have the highest hopes for. The extra consistency that cycling brings makes this look very powerful to me, and who doesn't like ripping through their deck and assembling sweet combos?

Giving Them the Hands

The last deck I want to talk about is the black-red deck that tries to empty its hand as soon as possible. It has cards that care about having one or fewer cards in hand and combines those cards with discard outlets to dump all its resources but end up with powered-up cards as a result. Cards in this deck come in two basic categories:

  • Cards that want you to have a low hand size
  • Cards that let you discard cards for fun and profit

Once you've collected some from each category, you can get to work. One thing that's interesting about this deck is that cards that make you discard aren't strictly necessary. You can't draft a Zombie deck without Zombies or a cycling deck without cyclers, but you can draft an empty-hand deck without any special enablers. A mechanic exists for emptying your hand—it's called playing your cards. That means that as long as you have enough cheap cards, all you need are the payoffs as the enablers aren't critical (even if they help).

This deck is the simplest to construct: pick up three or four cards that want a low hand size and maybe a couple discard outlets (or none, since you don't have to). Ta-da! You have drafted a synergy deck! It's the lightest on synergy, but synergy it still has.

There are many more synergies than what I outlined here, but this should give you enough to hit the ground running (and soon thereafter, your opponent). Synergies are what keep me coming back to Limited, and even if you haven't tried drafting such heavily themed decks as some of what I've talked about today, I encourage you to branch out at Draft Weekend. It's always rewarding to combine your cards into something greater, and there are plenty of opportunities here.


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